Motetti a vna, dve, tre et qvattro voci Col Basso continuo per l’Organo Fatti da diuersi Musici Seruitori del Serenissimo Signor Duca di Mantoua e racolti da FEDERICO MALGARINI pur anch’egli Seruitore, e Musico di detta Altezza. IN VENETIA, Appresso Giacomo Vincenti. MDCXVIII

edited by Licia Mari, (Gaude Barbara Beata, 2: Music of the Basilica of S. Barbara in Mantua)
LIM, 2016. pp. xxiv + 124 ISBN: 9788870967449 €25

Surprising and useful, this is a modern edition of 32 motets in score, from a 1618 Venetian print in part books, for the court of Mantua, dedicated to Scipione Gonzaga, son of Ferrante Gonzaga (brother of Mons. Francesco Gonzaga, who was still bishop). The collector was the composer and bass singer Federico Malgarini (among the highest paid in S. Barbara, and Rector of S. Salvatore, a church later demolished for the creation of the Jewish ghetto in 1611), and the other composers represented were also active at the Basilica. In Mantua the doctrines of the Council of Trent were followed, but with some independence in style and liturgy. The motets are generally quite short, and the contents include settings from Psalms (6, 8, 84, 98, 113, 137), Song of Songs (2, 4, 5), Old and New Testaments, and liturgical texts.

These composers wrote or sang secular music, too, and their motets are light, often florid, rhythmically interesting and delightful. They were either singers (Cardi, Sacchi, Grandi, Sanci and Rasi) or players, organists or musicians who worked in theatres and for the imperial court in Vienna. The contents are as follows [title, composer, voices]:

For one voice:
1. Apparuerunt Apostolis, Francesco Dognazzi [S]
2. O Domine Iesu Christe, Giovanni Battista Sacchi [S]
3. Audite caeli, Giulio Cardi [S]
4. Amo Christum, Lorenzo Sances (Sanci) [A]
5. Domine secundum actum meum, Alessandro Ghivizzani [T]
6. Cantate Domino, Federico Malgarini [B]
7. Quam pulchra es, Federico Malgarini [B]

For two voices:
8. Tota pulchra, Giulio Cardi [SS]
9. Nigra sum, Francesco Dognazzi [CT]
10. Sancta et immaculata virginitas, Lorenzo Sances [AT]
11. Benedictus Deus, Simpliciano Mazzucchi [SS]
12. Quasi cedrus exaltata sum, Ottavio Bargnani [ST]
13. O Maria, Giulio Cardi [SB]
14. O Crux benedicta, Giovanni Battista Rubini [SS]
15. Laudate pueri, Federico Malgarini [SB]
16. Beata es, Virgo Maria, Giovanni Battista Sacchi [SB]
17. Vulnerasti cor meum, Francesco Rasi [SS]
18. Audi Domina, Alessandro Ghivizzani [SB]
19. Adoramus te, Christe, Pandolfo Grandi [SS]

For three voices:
20. Domine, ne in furore tuo, Ottavio Bargnani [SAT]
21. Aperi oculos tuos, Anselmo Rossi [SAB]
22. Laetentur caeli, Alessandro Ghivizzani [SAB]
23. Confitebor tibi, Domine, Simpliciano Mazzucchi [SST]
24. O sacrum convivium, Pandolfo Grandi [SSB]
25. Anima mea liquefacta est, Giulio Cardi [SSB]
26. Cernite mortales, Orazio Rubini [SAB]
27. Beatus vir, Francesco Dognazzi [SST]
28. Ego dormio, Simpliciano Mazzucchi [SSB]

For four voices (all SATB):
29. Domine, Dominus noster, Ottavio Bargnani
30. Puer qui natus est, Francesco Dognazzi
31. Audi Domine, Amante Franzoni
32. Quam dilecta tabernacula tua, Simpliciano Mazzucchi

It is unfortunate that the Introduction is only in Italian, and that no full pages from the part books are included for comparison with the transcription, which I have to assume is faithful. In the Critical Apparatus there are 15 problematic details shown in facsimile, which are enough to suggest that there may be other solutions for the number of notes or rhythm of some ornamental passages (such as groups of three or five notes, or ties that weren’t respected by the editor as essential for the rhythm or underlay).

Malgorini’s collection is remarkable for the number of continuo figures it gives, many of which challenge interpretation. I wonder whether they were decided by Malgorini or perhaps written in by various organists in the manuscripts he used. Maria Licis adds a few more in parentheses, but she doesn’t offer help in the difficult cases, and confirms some pretty obvious ones. In one case a superfluous editorial (a natural) under a bass note e, meant to refer to a g natural 3rd above that note (and who would play a g sharp in the vicinity of five e flats?), will be mistaken for an editorial alteration of that bass note to e natural. Licis does not remove the ambiguity by repeating the flat sign. Upon reflection (i.e., is there any reason to change a brief e flat to e natural, or, indeed, to change the even shorter one in the voice as she suggests?) I decided she was referring to the 3rd above e flat. So I must remind performers to question all editorial interventions as well as one’s own.

More information or more facsimile examples in the Critical Apparatus would have been useful, too. Another problem may be the existence of wrong notes or missing accidentals in the print itself, unsuspected by the editor. Prints in movable type contain a high number of errors. There are two notes in Tota pulchra es  which I do not think are correct, because e, instead of the continuo’s f in bar 4 and also instead of its first c in bar 5, would not only produce good 6th chords, making sense harmonically and contrapuntally, but even appropriately for the text (et macula non est in te  – ‘There is no blemish in you’). Indeed the third and fourth repeats of “macula non” immediately following in bars 5 and 6 are set over four figured 6s in a row.

Since this music is so good, let me make a few suggestions for continuo players using it: 1) A string of numbers may not refer to chords, as we are apt to think. These single intervals may be a guide to a melodic line for the organ. The bass lines contain passages typical of keyboard toccatas, over which the right hand might only play a sequence of short motives; 2) A strange figure, such as a 2, between two chords on the same bass note may also be melodic, a way to pass from a major 3rd over the first to a minor 3rd over the second, by inserting a neighbouring note in between; 3) On almost every perfect cadence we find the conventional # 4 # , which stands for #3-4 4-3#, or simply figured # 4 – #. This edition never aligns the final sharp correctly, over the last quarter of the long dominant bass note, unless the vocal notes above clearly show the syncopation, which is usually demanded in the accompaniment anyway. Other misleading original figures could have been clarified, but every editor has to draw a line somewhere, and I’d agree here that we are lucky to have so many figures to consider, even where they are inconsistent. Players have to vet both those of Malgorini and of Licis, using a fair amount of creative musicianship as well.

Singers will enjoy these motets, technically easy, with plenty to do in not many bars (averaging about 36 bars per motet). Basses, however, be prepared for Malgorini’s two octave range, from D to e flat’! Everyone will enjoy encountering the other lesser known composers.

Barbara Sachs